Why Neil Diamond isn't really around anymore

If you grew up in the USA, there's a decent chance that you have at some point gathered with friends around the bonfire to sing about hands touching hands, reaching out, or maybe skipped down the sidewalk humming the lines from "Solitary Man." Either way, the music of Jewish folk singer Neil Diamond is about as American as apple pie — more American, actually, since Diamond was born in Brooklyn and since the earliest recipe for apple pie actually comes from England.

Anyhow, you know Neil Diamond. Your parents know Neil Diamond. Even your grandparents know Neil Diamond. But oddly enough, the man himself seems to have mostly dropped off the radar, though it's hard to pinpoint exactly when or how it happened. While so many of Diamond's musical peers have become embroiled in controversy after controversy or at least drawn headlines for whatever bizarre new jacket/scarf combo they're wearing, Diamond has kept a surprisingly low profile in recent years. Where'd Neil Diamond go?

Back problems, to start with

Neil Diamond's singing and songwriting career has spanned decades, but even his oldest fans might be surprised to find he's struggled with back issues since at least the 1970s. As an old New York Times article points out, in 1979 he was forced to undergo surgery which removed a "portion of a vertebra." As if that doesn't sound scary enough, the full story is even scarier: Laura Jackson's Neil Diamond: His Life, His Music, His Passion explains that Diamond had been feeling pain in his back and numbness in his leg for quite some time beforehand, and the so-called "portion of a vertebra" was actually a tumor, compressing his spinal cord. Yikes!

Luckily, the tumor was benign, and the surgery was successful, although it lasted a grueling nine hours. After waking up, Diamond had to go through a heavy recovery process and use a cane as he relearned how to walk. ABC says that even today, he still experiences "severe and chronic" back pain as a side effect of the surgery. Despite the intensity of what he went through, the Neil Diamond of 1979 had no intention of letting this setback force him into retirement. It wasn't long before he started targeting a major comeback the next year, by starring in a remake of the classic 1927 film The Jazz Singer.

So, about The Jazz Singer

The Jazz Singer didn't go so well

To be fair, it's hard for musicians to successfully make the jump into acting. It happens sometimes, but not often. Sure, that rapper Will Smith ended up becoming one of the biggest movie stars in the world, but on the other hand, nobody ever (wants to) remember From Justin to Kelly. Though a lot of effort went into producing Neil Diamond's 1980 remake of The Jazz Singer, the movie itself didn't go over so well. These days, Rotten Tomatoes ranks it at about 15 percent, and beloved film critic Roger Ebert famously said upon The Jazz Singer's release that the film "has so many things wrong with it that a review threatens to become a list." One key issue: Diamond unconvincingly plays a character two decades younger than he is. Even worse, as the AV Club points out, the film contains a horribly problematic and bizarre blackface sequence that never should've made it past the first draft.

Viewers weren't thrilled either, and one of the movie's investors, Lew Grade, reportedly referred to the box office results as "disappointing." Of course, The Jazz Singer didn't destroy Diamond's musical career, but it certainly put the brakes on any film ambitions he might've had.

He could easily live off royalties (if he isn't already)

Neil Diamond definitely loves making music, but he no longer needs to make music to support himself. Basically, he made so much money back in his earlier years that he could easily just sit back on an island and live on royalties if he wanted to. As a 1976 Rolling Stone piece pointed out, Diamond made a deal with MCA's Uni Records in 1967 that earned him $50,000 per album for five albums. When that contract was nearing its end, he started getting offers of over $400,000 per album for a 10-album commitment.

And Diamond still makes crazy amounts of money today, earning royalties whenever people download "Sweet Caroline," for example. Sure, it might be an old song — he wrote it in 1969 — but according to the Washington Post, "Sweet Caroline" could still net him $300,000 to $500,000 a year, and it's hardly the only classic on his resume. It's worth noting that after the 2013 Boston marathon bombing, he donated a week of "Sweet Caroline" royalties (probably around $5,000) to victims of the attack.

He's become an elder statesman of the industry

Consider for a moment just how long Neil Diamond's music has been around, and it's hard not to notice how his songs have transformed from pop hits to part of the tapestry of American life. Now that the guy is almost 80 years old, he's done trying to redefine music. He's made his mark. His name is in the history books. So over the past decade, he's more or less been on a retirement tour, picking up lifetime achievement awards left and right.

For example, in 2011, the Telegraph reported he'd earned his spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, alongside fellow musicians Paul Simon, Alice Cooper, and Tom Waits. In 2012, he got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 2017, he put out a 50th anniversary collection. In 2018, the Recording Academy celebrated his legacy with a lifetime achievement award. You get the idea. None of this means he can't still put out new music whenever he feels like it, it just means he's taken a step back from the industry as a whole and now has the opportunity to bask in his achievements. It's like when Captain Kirk got promoted to Admiral Kirk, minus the fancy red sweater.

He's a grandpa these days

When it comes down to it, Neil Diamond is a family man, and that role comes first in his life. He takes care of the people close to him, in 2010 even conducting an interview with the Telegraph alongside his 92-year-old mother. (She offered the journalist corn on the cob.) Now, that doesn't mean everything has always been perfect in his family life. In the 1990s, he and his wife of 30 years divorced. But unlike the dramatic celebrity breakups you usually see on TV, this one seems to have gone pretty smoothly. Diamond elected to split his fortune evenly with his ex, explaining that, "She earned every penny. None of my career would have been the same without her."

Since 2012, he's been married to Katie McNeal, according to Parade, who is also his co-manager. He's had four grown children, who in turn have created seven grandchildren. So yeah, he's got a busy family life.

It's not Christmas time (probably)

Maybe the reason you don't hear from Neil Diamond too often is because it probably isn't Christmas. (The chance of you reading this on Christmas, or even in December, is statistically pretty low.) Regardless, Christmas only comes once a year, and this musician seems to enjoy putting out new albums every time the sleigh balls are ringing. He's recorded not one, not two, but four (!) Christmas albums to date, most recently Acoustic Christmas in 2016. That same year, he went on TV for Christmas at the Rockefeller Center. So if you're waiting for Diamond to come back around, just mark off December on your calendar.

Wait, so why does he like Christmas so much? Well, Diamond's interest in Christmas isn't religious, considering that he's Jewish. When NPR asked him what the deal was, he basically shrugged it off as being something he enjoys doing since he never celebrated Christmas as a kid.

This isn't the first time he's 'disappeared'

It might seem like Neil Diamond has been in the public eye pretty consistently, but in reality, vanishing acts have always been part of his MO. Rather than work himself to death, Diamond prefers to regularly take vacations from performing, sometimes for a few years at a time. For example, the New York Times writes that back in 1972, he announced he was going to be taking a sabbatical from concerts for a few years. He was only in his mid-30s, prime music-making age for many artists, but that break lasted until 1976 and then he came back. No big deal, right? If only everyone could afford long vacations like that.

He explained his reasoning to Rolling Stone by saying "I've tried to [keep some privacy]. I've avoided getting too hot; I've avoided overexposure, staying away from television for a long time has been part of it." It's an old habit, and it's worked well for him.

He doesn't seem to care much about social media

Not that long ago, if you wanted to see what a celebrity was getting up to, you'd watch for their name in the newspapers. These days, of course, the first place you'll look is on their social media streams. Admittedly, Neil Diamond is nearly 80 years old, so you can't blame him for not wanting to check in on his Twitter every day. Yes, he has one, but he only tweets every few months or so, and usually nothing personal. Regardless, this lack of a heavy social media presence might explain why he might seem "absent" compared to all the other Twitter-crazed celebs out there.

Hop on over to his Instagram, and it's the same general story. Sure, he posts the occasional photo or two — sometimes even personal pictures of his lovable dogs — but it's rare. He probably isn't too interested in the platform, but he generally seems to be enjoying his own life instead of scrolling through a newsfeed for hours at a time. What a man.

He cares more about music than stardom

Neil Diamond might be one of the biggest musicians in history, but he's never been a conventional "rock star," and he's not one to hog the spotlight. Basically, he's just a regular guy who enjoys the creative endeavor of making and playing music for appreciative audiences. Once he gets off the stage, he's always been pretty quiet. Even back in his heyday, the self-proclaimed "solitary man" wasn't a big partier, according to the Telegraph. While other musicians were hitting the clubs, he preferred to go home and write music.

Sure, it might seem like this soft-spoken strummer has been even quieter than usual in the last decade or so, but in reality, stepping back from the spotlight has always kind of been his thing. Apparently this is what happens when a normal person becomes a rock star! In fact, Diamond's approach to fame was intentionally the polar opposite of that of Elvis and other icons. Years later, Diamond told the Telegraph that "I learnt from Elvis to avoid becoming public property. Nothing is worth that."

In 2018, he was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease

Though it would be nice to end on a positive note, sadly, real life doesn't care about the tune. In January 2018, Diamond announced to the world that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, an incurable cognitive disorder that causes shaking, stiffness, and balancing difficulties, and eventually leads to anxiety, depression, and dementia. The general public knows it as the disease that Michael J. Fox lives with. The painful reality of this new condition forced Diamond to cancel the remainder of his 50th anniversary tour, much to his own "reluctance and disappointment."

However, though Neil Diamond may have retired from touring, he is not retiring from music. In the same announcement, he made it clear that he would continue writing and recording new songs and sharing music with the world for as long as he can. And he hasn't gotten full of himself or forgotten his fans: "My thanks goes out to my loyal and devoted audiences around the world. … This ride has been 'so good, so good, so good' thanks to you."